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Keno: The History of The Game of The White Pigeon

The earliest account of the game dates back to ancient China, in the Han dynasty, which flourished in 200 BC. An ancient Chinese city was waging a war against invaders. The bad news was, the army was dwindling, and war funds were getting low. The people were equally tired of the war, and were adamantly against paying more taxes to support the war.And so it was the responsibility of Cheung Leung, the city's ruler, to devise a plan to raise more funds for the city's war effort without taking the money from the people's pockets.

And here is where the game of keno begins. Cheung Leung took one hundred and twenty characters from a popular poem, The Thousand Character Classic, and made subdivisions of eight out of these characters. This poem, written by Zhou Xingsi, was popularly used to teach Chinese children to learn math. Players had to guess what composed one subdivision correctly, and whoever did so was rewarded with ten taels, the currency of that time.

The game rose to popularity, and soon everyone was playing it. The game's more popular name was the game of the white pigeon, because operators used white doves in sending messages of winner's names all throughout the Chinese countryside. The game remains widely played today, although the original one hundred and twenty characters were reduced to a more manageable eighty.

Keno traveled to America brought by Chinese immigrants, sailors, and railroad workers who worked on the trans-Pacific railroad. It became a popular betting game in underground San Francisco, where the game was more popularly known as the Chinese lottery. By the early 20th century the game's traditional Chinese characters were replaced with more understandable numbers, to allow more American players to play the game.

The game of keno changed names quite a lot, although it was still played the same. When the Nevada state legislature decided to legalize gambling in 1931, they did not legalize keno, which was a lottery. To solve this problems the operators changed the name to Horse Race keno ,where numbers were deemed as horses that one betted to come in. Finally when off track betting was legalized operators decided to give the game its old name back and it has not been changed again since.

Keno remains a popular game today. Having attracted a lot of people even in ancient China, it continues to be a huge crowd drawer even after 3000 or so years.

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